Interfaith dialogue

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Europe: Tuesday 24th July 2018, Brighton, UK; His Grace, Metropolitan Jerome of Selsey in his capacity as a trustee of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action and Chair of the Combatting Faith Hate Partnership Education Committee co-hosted with the BHFA Chair, Rik Child a dinner sponsored by the Brighton & Hove Muslim Forum. The guests were representatives of the Coptic Orthodox Church led by Father John Habib and the local Muslim community by Imam Uthman Jeewa. The purpose of the meal was to foster mutual knowledge of and trust for each other with a view to presenting an example of reconciliation between their communities for the city.

Recent Police statistics suggest a rise in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes in the city of Brighton & Hove. The Coptic Orthodox population, though suffering persecution from Islamist extremists in their home country of Egypt, are being mistaken for Muslims and thus experiencing some of the faith hate directed at the Muslim population here in this recently designated “City of Sanctuary by the sea“. Copts share with Muslims a common cultural Arabic heritage and the Arabic language as a common tongue. In recent years relations between the Coptic and Muslim communities have been strained by the persecution of the Copts in Egypt, such that Coptic bishops forbade their congregants to socialise with Muslims for security reasons after Coptic centres in the international diaspora were threatened by extremists.

The bringing together of leaders of the Coptic and Muslim communities for a meal is an attempt to encourage solidarity in witness to their respective faiths, recognising their shared predicament in the UK where both suffer persecution for their faith. Both communities are also participants in the BHFA Combatting Faith Hate Partnership project to build greater community cohesion and resilience against all forms of religious persecution and extremism. The project’s approach is three-fold;

  1. Faith panel engaging with education institutions (schools, colleges and universities) – where a panel of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders discuss the importance of religious tolerance and mutual respect with students and young people.
  2. An adult ‘faith tour’ of local faith groups – Open to people of all faiths and none, the tour group would visit a different Mosque, Synagogue or Church for about six weeks. Participants from the group will record their reflections in an online blog. The hope is this tour will dispel any myths and ‘normalise’ different faiths for people, thereby increasing religious tolerance.
  3. A ‘stand together’ committee – where senior faith leaders meet and break bread together to discuss any instances of external persecution of their own community, or any concerns with internal radicalisation. These private meetings will be a safe forum where leaders of different faiths can support one another in their attempts to tackle religious prejudice or radicalisation.

Chairing the Education Committee of the project, Metropolitan Jerome has been facilitating meetings between Jewish, Muslim, Coptic, Anglican and Roman Catholic partners with Council and Education officers and the local Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education, to formulate the approach to schools and universities. Over the summer the respective faith communities will be holding meetings of their school-age young people to discuss and collate their experiences of being people of faith in the school environment and to discern how and what would help them in their schools from a faith panel visit. It is hoped this approach will address the issues of faith hate that young people experience in the school environment and present a positive presentation from a diverse panel of faith community representatives.

Metropolitan Jerome said, “… as the Combatting Faith Hate Partnership progresses it has been interesting to learn how the different faith communities have experienced intolerance of their community and of their faith and everyone involved has begun to find a new-found sense of respect and mutual concern for the experiences of others, despite differences in theology and culture.” The meal held last Tuesday was considered a great success by all present and members did not shy from sharing frankly and openly their divergent theologies and experience of living faith. Tuesday’s was the first of many more planned meals and opportunities for members to meet socially, informally and in a cordial atmosphere to engender that sense of mutual trust and respect between communities the project hopes to positively present to young people and others in the city of people of faith.

L-R: Imam Uthman, Father John (Coptic), Metropolitan Jerome, Rik Child and members of the Coptic Orthodox community and Al-Medinah Mosque

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